give us today our daily bread and circuses
It is 5.15AM. Grubby eyed and dishevelled, I look around the Afzalgunj bus stand. Sleepy passengers, early commuters and the homeless bunch around in small groups. There’s a faint whiff of the stench that the Musi is famous for. I head out of the bus stand and on the road leading to a bridge across the river. A few hundred metres later, across a ghostly traffic signal, I spot the familiar neon sign of Basra Hotel. I walk in – the interiors are just the same as they were years ago, dirty and yellowing with tables that were new decades ago. The walls have a patina of a brown grease. The owner sits at one of the tables, stroking his not so magnificent beard and swatting a fly that flies dangerously close to his mouth. From inside the tiny kitchen at the back of the place, I can smell the heavenly tea that Hotel Basra is known for. I order one. And a plate of keema samosas.
I am in Hyderabad.
Bus No. 45F is belching smoke as we lurch through the dimly lit streets around Kachiguda. The lanes of Nimboliadda are even quieter than usual, empty pushcarts lined up and garbage piled up at the end of each. I hope that since this is the bus’ first trip, it might make an exception and pick up passengers at the railway station, but it doesn’t. I am content to merely observe the bright lights of the roundabout that precedes the magnificent white building. Tightly spaced buildings of Narayanguda come and go, each filled with students cramming various equations and formulae. EAMCET Factory. Speeding across the RTC ‘X’ Roads, with its empty cinema theatres is a thrill. Post 7AM this usually turns into a nightmare. Musheerabad with its busy Irani cafes and the devout streaming into mosques for prayer. Kavadiguda with its narrow main roads, rusting garages and small industries. Crossing up from the Bible House and onto Kingsway and the hundreds of shops selling hardware, electricals and other things one doesn’t normally think of. The staid, yet proud building of the Secunderabad Post Office at Patny. The smelly MCH swimming pool and then past Paradise circle and Yatri Nivas. Shyamlal Building and Begumpet. Sheeshmahal and Ameerpet.
It feels strange this morning. There’s a warmth in the heart, but it feels somewhat unwelcome. I hadn’t been to Hyderabad and travelled on its roads for more than 3 years. I had made a big deal of moving out. Of moving on. Of letting go. I was determined during this brief layover not to get drawn in by the seductiveness of the familiar. The comfort of a geographical blanket. Yet, here I am.
It feels like your first love is inching back into your life and demanding friendship and space. Like a first love, this city knows how to push my buttons. It does so with fearlessly knowing that I’ll give up. It does so knowing that I’ll cry my guts out. It know that no matter how much I’ve moved on, there’s a tiny, tiny part of my heart that beats exclusively for it.
3 years, I stopped calling it home and was determined not to come back and call it that again. It’s taken me all of 3 hours to change my mind.
nabokov to george wiedenfeld, deploring a critical comparison with boris pasternak.